County and Middletown Reach Deal on Indigot Reservoir

After being tabled at the last meeting due to last-minute concerns, county finally approves it
October 12, 2016 8:00 pm Last Updated: December 22, 2016 12:04 pm

GOSHEN—After Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus and City of Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano signed a memorandum of understanding to allow the city to develop the Indigot Reservoir earlier this year, the County Legislature unanimously signed the deal into law on Oct. 6.

Middletown has been able to draw from the county-owned reservoir, located in the Town of Mount Hope, since the 1980s, but it has only been able to use it as a temporary source with a cap of 500,000 gallons a day.

The easement agreement will allow the city to use up to an annual average of 1 million gallons of water per day, with the first 375,000 gallons at no charge, Jacob Tawil, the city’s commissioner of public works said. Thereafter the county would charged $1 for every 1,000 gallons.

This will allow the city to offer more water service to new businesses in the area, the most notable to date being Amy’s Kitchen, an organic food manufacturer that is in the planning stages of building a plant in the Town of Goshen.

Amy’s Kitchen said in its application to the town that it would use about 200,000 gallons of water a day, and Middletown sent Amy’s a will-serve letter in March declaring its intent to provide them water.

While county legislators were largely supportive of Middletown developing the county’s unused water source, it faced opposition from nearby towns.

The supervisors of Mount Hope, Greenville, and Wallkill all expressed concern that the quantity of water Middletown would be allowed to withdraw could affect household wells in the area.

At the request of the Town of Wallkill, hydrologist Eric Hanson wrote a letter to the legislature asking for assurance that the county would test both the production wells, and the residential wells within 1,000 feet of them, for 72 hours before any more production wells were drilled. It also asked for an analysis be done as to the impact a 100-year drought would have on residential wells in the area, and if there are complaints relating to water, they be investigated and mitigated by the city.

Several Mount Hope residents expressed similar concerns during the legislature meeting, including Mount Hope Supervisor Chad Volpe. His concern was that the language in the easement was vague, and while he was told by the county attorney that their requests were in the contract, he said it wasn’t something “the average Joe” could understand.

Also at issue was that Middletown, the beneficiary of the agreement, was the lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for the project.

Addressing their concerns, Legislator Jeff Berkman, who represents most of Middletown, followed the easement resolution with another resolution that would require a new SEQR process for each new development in the Indigot Reservoir, which would give the public further opportunity to express their concerns.

Volpe said later that satisfied  his concerns, “as long as its followed through with.”

Greenville Supervisor George “Red” Hossann said he was also satisfied with the agreement.

Amy’s Kitchen

 Legislator Philip Canterino, a former Goshen Town Board member who now represents Goshen as one of his districts in the legislature, said the easement agreement had been in the works for years, was tabled at the last meeting due to last-minute concerns, and if they did not pass it soon, Amy’s would not be able to come.

Legislator Michael Paduch, who represents the Town of Wallkill and a part of Middletown, said that was not true because Middletown has the capacity to serve Amy’s Kitchen now. If it wanted to provide water for more development in the future, however, it would need another water source.

Berkman agreed that the city had the capacity to supply Amy’s Kitchen without the Indigot Reservoir, but the fact that the county was giving the city a discount by offering the first 375,000 gallons of water free made it more politically feasible since Amy’s would be getting a lower rate than most city taxpayers.

 History

The county acquired the Indigot Reservoir after a 1982 study, commissioned by the Orange County Water authority (OCWA), predicted that by 2020 the county would be short 19.9 million gallons of water a day, and have a population of 425,000 people.

Indigot was one of three reservoir sites the county obtained, with a projected safe yield of 3 million gallons of water per day.

The U.S. Census Bureau, based on 2010 data, puts the population closer to 377,000 for 2015.

The county decided it didn’t want to be in the business of selling water, so rather than pay an estimated $87 million to $107 million to develop the 640-acre site, which is roughly 80 percent wetlands according to the county’s 2009 Water Master Plan, the county is leasing it to Middletown to use for commercial development, primarily on the 17M corridor.

While the county’s attorney told the legislature the easement agreement doesn’t preclude Middletown from using it for residential purposes, the city put in its own resolution that the Indigot water would be used for commercial use only.

One concern that was not addressed at the meeting but brought up beforehand is why Middletown was given exclusive access to the water.

Wallkill Supervisor Dan Depew sent a letter dated Sept. 9 to the legislature asking why, when the county bought the site to serve the entire county, was the county not extending the same courtesy to other municipalities “that may have equal or greater need.”

While not addressing Depew’s concern specifically, Berkman said during the legislature meeting that because Middletown had the infrastructure already in place, it would be redundant for the county or any other municipality to develop the site.

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